Hearsay ... the Journal of the Bar Association of Queensland
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Irene Winifred Paten LLB - Queensland’s First Woman Barrister Print E-mail


By Tony Cunneen i

Research into the Queensland legal profession in the First World War for the In Freedom’s Causeii  project uncovered many hitherto unknown stories. One previously overlooked story concerns the life of Irene Winifred Anna Hunt Paten (always known in the family as Win and how she will be referred to in this article). She deserves more attention than she has so far received because she was the first Queensland woman to graduate in Law – in her case it was at Melbourne University in 1912. Furthermore, her admission to the Victorian Bar and the High Court in 1914 made her the first Queensland woman to be a Barrister, albeit in another stateiii. Win did not practise in her home state as there was at the time no reciprocity between Victoria and Queensland. Her private circumstances did not allow her to practise in other jurisdictions. She did however maintain a very active public life and was often known as an authoritative legal commentator who spoke to women about the laws that affected them.

While there was certainly limited opportunity for women to be involved in public life during the first half of the Twentieth Century, formidable individuals such as Win Paten operated as best they could within the limits of a stifling system and deserve to be remembered as the pioneers they were.

Win Paten was the youngest daughter of Jesse and Eliza Paten. Jesse Paten was a self-made man who had come to Australia as an assisted migrant with his father in 1858 and became a successful farmer, businessman and pioneer in local government. As was common with such settlers, the Patens were energetic and competitive in their approach to local development and their own affairs. They were a prosperous pioneering family who lived in an impressive house known as Walton at The Gap near Ashgrove on land they had purchased in 1858.iv The family was very much a link with the early days of the district as they established their farm before Separation, when Queensland was a province of New South Wales. The family lived in a style and had attitudes which suited the Victorian era.

Jesse and Eliza Paten had eight children. The first was still born, then Win’s oldest sister, Mabel, known as ‘May’, was born, followed by Eunice, then Pearl, a boy, Jesse, then Win and two more boys, Leigh and Edward. As was typical of the time, May stayed at home with the parents and took care of her younger siblings. May was a writer and her diary provides some insight into the world surrounding Win Paten. May was an impressive woman who drove the family buggy and bred independence into her siblings. She was active in public life – she was the minutes secretary of the Queensland Women’s Electoral League before the First World War and later was co-founder, with Margaret Ogg, of the Brisbane Lyceum Club. She was also that club’s first President and life Vice President. The other two other Paten daughters, Pearl Constance (known as Con) and Eunice Muriel (known as Ness) also had high profile lives.

Win was born in the family home, Walton, and was a brilliant young scholar who first attended Brisbane Girls Grammar School, then was fortunate to be a foundation student at Brisbane High School for Girls (now known as Somerville House) at a time when that school was producing outstanding students who prided themselves as being among the best in the British Empire. Win Paten won the Florence Collis Stanbridge Scholarship to attend Trinity College (the women’s hostel at the University of Melbourne).v She travelled to Melbourne by ship accompanied by May and settled successfully into University life. She graduated LLB in 1912 – and was given a gold watch by her father. She moved back to Brisbane and was a teacher at the Isabel Rutherford School. It is probable that during this time she was unsuccessfully trying for Articles in Queensland and obviously found it an impossible task. She was not connected to the law through family and the best chance seemed to be in Victoria. She returned to Melbourne and the office of GFA Jones, Solicitors and served her Articles there. The family knew the principal in the firm, Greg Jones, who had visited them at Walton.

Win Paten was admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court of Victoria and the High Court of Australia and a solicitor on 1 December 1914 on the motion of Mr Lloyd Foster, but the outbreak of war changed the Paten family forever. They were typically loyal British Queenslanders who supported the mother country absolutely. The family had never lost its Anglophile nature although they were also all proud Australians.

Eunice Paten was the first in the family to enlist in the war and served as a nurse throughout the conflict. She sailed on Omrah from Brisbane on 24 September 1914 and had an eventful war, which included nursing sailors from the German warship Emden captured on the way to England. She returned to Australia in 1919 and became a leading figure in nursing and the military.vi Pearl Paten trained as a masseuse (physiotherapist) in Sydney and served in the Australian Army Massage service 1915 – 1919 including time at the 114th Australian General Hospital in Egypt and was masseuse in charge of Rosemount Military Hospital in Australia. She and Eunice returned to Australia on the same ship. After the war Pearl married Captain Charles William Scott French, MC and Bar. May Paten remained in Australia during the war where she served as a member of the Royal Australian Automobile Club of Queensland’s Transport Corps for returned soldiers.

Win Paten married a professional soldier from Victoria, Company Sergeant Major Andrew Gordon Woodyard, who was three years her junior, on 10 March 1915. According to the family, the tall, powerfully built soldier, who was on the instructional staff for the CMF, ‘swept her off her feet’ - and out of any chance for a legal career. Win travelled happily around Australia with her husband as she followed his work in the military. At different times they lived in areas as far afield as Chatswood in Sydney and maintained a house in Northcote in Victoria. She wrote one letter home in which she said she had been asked to ‘lend (her) name to a managing clerk to run a business’ but would not do it because she was not sure of the soundness of the approach.vii

The Woodyards had one daughter, Elizabeth. Win’s husband, Andrew Woodyard, left for war in 1917 and was killed by shell fire in action near Villers Bretonneau 7 August 1918. Win and the family made extensive enquires via the Red Cross and personal approaches to the military as to the circumstances of his fate.viii Win was heartbroken at his loss.


Two of Win Paten’s brothers attempted to join the AIF. Jesse Hunt Paten and Edward Hunt Paten both attempted to enlist on the same day. Edward was born in 1896 and so needed his father’s permission. Jesse was older but was invalided out due to illness and did not serve overseas, much to his chagrin. The fate of his younger brother haunted him for years afterwards: Edward Hunt Paten was killed in action near Ploegstreet 15 July 1917 aged 21 years. His sister Eunice, stationed in the No. 2 Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Southall made repeated requests for information via the Red Cross as to the fate of her younger brother.ix

Win Paten maintained an influential public profile after the war. She was the first Honorary Secretary of the Queensland Branch of the Lyceum Club. She was a keen advocate of women’s legal rights and gave a well reported speech on the topic at the Brisbane Women’s Club in September 1919. Her status as a barrister gave her considerable credibility and she made a speech that covered many issues and gives some indication of both her ideas but also the situation of women in Queensland at the time. The report of it follows:

The first Queensland woman barrister, Mrs Woodyard LL.B gave a most interesting exposition of law at a meeting of the Brisbane Women’s Club. . . Mrs Woodyard explained the operations of common law and the practise of the courts of equity. She traced the traced the history of women’s condition under Roman law, where woman was subject to chastisement, bondage, and even killing at the will of the father or husband to her condition under modern laws. Mrs Woodyard showed conditions in England prior to 1873 when a married woman was the absolute chattel of her husband and her economic subjection in Queensland prior to the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act in 1897. The greater freedom since enjoyed by women also brought greater liabilities. Mrs Woodyard referred to the injustice of the law that gives the custody of children to the father except in the case of illegitimate children, when control is invested in the mother. . . modification of this law has recently been brought about by the Guardians' Custody Act, by which a woman can appoint a co-trustee as guardian of her children. Mention was made of the fact that it is the custom of the Defence Department to recognise the mother of a soldier as his next of kin. By the Queensland Testators' Family Maintenance Bill, the claims of the wife and mother have been safeguarded. Scottish and French law were quoted, to show how much more liberal is their provision for the wife and mother than under British law. Divorce laws were discussed, attention being drawn to the inequalities In the Queensland law. The enumeration and history, of laws improving the social and. economic conditions of women were also very lucidly dealt with, mention being made of the professions open to women in various countries. The speaker concluded with the hope that with the wider and more intelligent interest taken by women themselves in the laws by which they are governed woman would soon honestly be regarded in the eyes of the law as the equal of man.

The themes of the speech – that women should be treated the equal of men in the eyes of the law, and that women should become more involved in public life, resonated through the remainder of her life.

Win remarried in 1922. Her husband, Captain Charles Lester Gordon Trewin, was a rather dashing former member of the 4th Light Horse who had served with distinction in Palestine and had been associated with the legendary Lawrence of Arabia. Charles Trewin had led the Advanced Guard of the Light Horse into Damascus on 1 October 1918 and captured some thousands of prisoners, but despite the recommendation for a DSO gained no honours.x He was married in his uniform at the family home, Walton. Press reports of Win from this time noted her achievements at Melbourne University and her admission to the bar, but it was also mentioned that she had found a ‘happy marriage and happy motherhood a nobler profession.’xi Such were the attitudes of the time. The other Queensland woman at the bar who was mentioned at the same time was one Miss Leahy who was in the United States.

The Trewins had four children and after they had grown beyond infancy Win moved into a higher profile public life, advocating the cause of women and families in particular. She actively promoted women becoming involved in public life, whether through work or engagement in political activity.

Win continued her involvement with the Lyceum Club and was appointed a Justice of the Peace for Queensland in October 1932. She was referred to in the press as ‘a lady Barrister from the Maroochy River’xii and spoke at venues such as the Country Women’s Association on laws affecting women and children.xiii She joined the executive of the Queensland Women’s Parliamentary Association in 1935 and was Honorary Secretary of the Queensland Women’s Voluntary National Register in 1941, during the Second World War, This high profile project to register women for war work had over 10,000 names on the books by May 1941. Win’s role as the Honorary Secretary was a very public position and she was an energetic advocate of women serving overseas or at home. She was a strong personality, and when the organisation was restructured she resigned in protest because she deemed it ‘impractical’xiv . Her husband, Charles, again went into the army to help in training. The war must have been a difficult time for her as both her sons, Charles Jesse Paten Trewin (known as Pat) and John Scott Trewin, enlisted and served overseas, no doubt reminding her of the departures of loved ones in the first great conflict. Charles Trewin was severely wounded in the arm on Labuan Island towards the end of the war. His brother, John, took compassionate leave to look after him.xv

Win Paten was well aware of the threat of Japanese invasion and she had her husband, Andrew, make two spears out of broomsticks and carving knives so that if the circumstances warranted she would ‘go down fighting.’ It is a mark of the physical and mental sturdiness of the woman that no one in the family was at all surprised by this request.xvi

Win Paten’s sense of public duty and her view that the family unit was the centre of social stability also led her to become a Member of the Executive of Crèche and Kindergarten (Queensland) Association representing West End and a member of Council of the Bush Nursing Association.xvii She was on the Agenda Committee for the Queensland People’s Party in the 1940s. In 1947 she was a foundation vice-president of the Women’s Political Club in Brisbane.xviii Win was a well-known public speaker and a very forthright advocate on women’s affairs and on a range of other issues. In 1949 she spoke to the League of Women Voters concerning indigenous communities at Cherbourgxix which she had visited – a remarkable journey for a woman at such a time.

Win maintained her enthusiasm for educating women about their legal situation particularly in relation to their husbands, property and wills and, in April 1954, made a strong speech on the subject to the Brisbane Women’s Club under the title: Legal Points Women Should Know. She was introduced for the talk as ‘the fifth woman barrister in Australia’.xx In October 1951 she was foundation vice-president of the AMP Wives Club – again, an organisation to actively encourage the involvement of women in public activities.xxi

In many ways Win Paten/Woodyard/Trewin’s personal history provides a template for understanding the history of the pressures operating on women pioneers in the law and public life in the first half of the 20th century. Motherhood and structural restrictions on entering the law prevented her from pursuing a career, but she maintained the sense of public duty bred into her from her family. While Win Paten never formally practised law, she remained a source of legal wisdom and encouragement to women in particular throughout her public life. Her attitude towards public activity was best articulated in a speech she made to women in 1941, as part of the Women’s National Voluntary Register: she urged women in important roles to ‘stick to them’ but also she also exhorted her audience ‘to learn anything you can…’xxii

Irene Winifred Paten died 15 June 1976. She is remembered by her family as a woman of ‘fierce independence and intellect’ who remained a passionate advocate of women’s legal rights throughout her life.xxiii



i Member, Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History (acunneen@bigpond.net.au – Mob: 0409 089 696)

ii Supreme Court Library Queensland In Freedom’s Cause Brisbane 2016.The book and exhibition were launched in Banco Court by His Honour Justice Logan and Her Honour the Chief Justice of Queensland Catherine Holmes, 18 February 2016. The author wrote the chapter, ‘To whom much is given, much shall be required’, on the Home Front in Queensland in WWI.

iii Win Paten was referred to as the First Woman Barrister from Queensland in The Queenslander 20 September 1919, 5

iv The author is indebted to Mr Dick Paten for his time and generosity in allowing himself to be interviewed and in showing the Paten family papers on 26 June 2015 and via a phone interview 15 March 2016. Unless otherwise stated family details come from Richard Paten and the family records held by him. Further information has come from Mr Andrew Trewin, grandson of Win Trewin Interview with the Author. 13 March 2016.

v Hall, N. A. Legacy of Honour: The Centenary History of Somerville House 1989. 5

vi Further details Who’s Who in Australia 1968

vii Paten, I W Letter to family, 30 August 1915. Paten Family Archives.

viii Red Cross Missing and Wounded Enquiry Bureau Report 5129 Company Quartermaster Sergeant Andrew Gordon Woodyard. Record of Enquiry. Australian War Memorial https://www.awm.gov.au/images/collection/pdf/RCDIG1059275--1-.pdf

ix Red Cross Missing and Wounded Enquiry Bureau Report 5101A Lance Corporal Edward Hunt Paten. Record of Enquiry. Australian War Memorial https://www.awm.gov.au/images/collection/pdf/RCDIG1056651--1-.pdf

x Honours and Awards Recommendations. Australian War Memorial. Captain Charles Lester Gordon Trewin https://www.awm.gov.au/images/collection/pdf/RCDIG1068801--82-.pdf

xi ‘Facts Fads and Fancies’ Queensland Figaro 28 June 1924, 3

xii ‘QCWA’ Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser, 6 May 1932, 7.

xiii ‘CWA Nandina’ Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser, 26 August 1932. 6

xiv ‘WVNR Secretary Resigns’. The Telegraph 29 November 1941. 9

xv Trewin, Andrew Interview with the Author. 13 March 2016

xvi Trewin, Andrew Interview with the Author. 13 March 2016

xvii Freeman, P G. History of Somerville House 1899 – 1949. WR smith & Paterson. Brisbane. 1949. 83

xviii ‘Political Club’ The Courier-Mail 9 August 1947, 8

xix ‘Life at Cherbourg’ Brisbane Telegraph 15 March 1949. 6

xx ‘Savings Not Wife’s Own’ Courier-Mail 17 April 1954, 7

xxi ‘Novel Items Planned for Wives Club’ Brisbane Telegraph 18 October, 1951. 16

xxii ‘Women’s National Voluntary Register’ The Beaudesert Times 23 May 1941.

xxiii Trewin, Andrew Interview with the Author. 13 March 2016.

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